Cooperation between the United Nations (UN) and the Republic of Azerbaijan began in 1992 with Azerbaijan’s admission as a Member State. Soon after Azerbaijan’s declaration of independence and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the UN General Assembly adopted resolution 46/230 at the 82nd plenary meeting of its 46th session in New York on 2 March 1992, during which Azerbaijan and eight other former Soviet republics were admitted. On 6 May 1992, Azerbaijan opened its Permanent Mission to the United Nations in New York.
The first United Nations office in Azerbaijan opened in November 1992 in the Respublica Hotel in Baku. This integrated office housed international staff from the UN Secretariat and the UN Development Programme (UNDP) as well as a few national staff. By the end of 1993, it was relocated to the current UN Office, which was generously donated by the Government of Azerbaijan. Shortly after, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Food Programme (WFP) opened their offices at the same location.
Within a few years, the UN family expanded to include the UN Department of Humanitarian Affairs (UNDHA, now UNOCHA), UN Population Fund (UNFPA), World Health Organization (WHO), International Labour Organization (ILO), Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and UN Joint Programme on AIDS (UNAIDS), many of which are still present in Azerbaijan in 2017.
During the initial years (1992-1995) following Azerbaijan’s independence, United Nations’ assistance was primarily focused on the immediate needs of refugees and IDPs affected by the conflict in and around the Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan. During this time, UN Agencies provided food, health services, shelter and other non-food items to more than 600,000 IDPs from the Nagorno-Karabakh region and the seven adjacent districts of Aghdam, Jabrail, Fuzuli, Kalbajar, Gubadli, Lachin and Zangilan. Assistance also included support to some 200,000 Azerbaijani refugees who were forced to leave Armenia between 1988 and 1992. The combined efforts of the Government, local communities and the international community were crucial in preventing the most tragic consequences of large-scale displacement, such as mass starvation, epidemics and social unrest. At the same time, the UN continued to support the efforts of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE, now OSCE) towards bringing about a ceasefire and a peaceful solution to the conflict.
Throughout the 1990s, the UN continued its assistance to the Government with post-conflict rehabilitation by establishing, funding and building the capacity of the Azerbaijan Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Agency (ARRA, established in 1997) and Azerbaijan National Agency for Mine Action (ANAMA, established in 1998), both of which continue to operate successfully to date. In 1999, UNDP launched a project to build the capacity of the newly-established ANAMA to effectively deal with the landmine problem in Azerbaijan. This helped mobilize funding for demining work from international donors including Canada, Germany, Japan, Norway, the United States and, more recently, EU. Since its establishment in 1998, the agency has cleared over 30,000 square kilometres of minefield and has destroyed more than 700,000 pieces of explosive devices directly benefiting over 100,000 people. Today, ANAMA is a one of the successful examples of UN-Azerbaijan collaboration in building sustainable institutions that are ready to export its knowledge and expertise to other countries.
In 2000, the Government of Azerbaijan committed to achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and partnered with the UN Agencies and other development actors in the fight against poverty. As a result, poverty has been drastically reduced in the last 25 years. The efforts of the Government and the UN have also translated into an improved Human Development Index (HDI) in Azerbaijan, which has increased by 30 per cent between 1995 and 2015. Azerbaijan’s gross national income (GNI) per capita increased by approximately 87.8 per cent between 1990 and 2015.
In support of national efforts to achieve the MDGs, UN Agencies have been working closely with the Government in order to improve the health care system. Azerbaijan was officially listed as polio free in June 2002 and malaria has been fully eradicated. Between 1990 and 2015, Azerbaijan’s life expectancy at birth increased by six years and the mortality rate among children under the age of 5 and maternal mortality have been significantly reduced.
One of Azerbaijan’s most significant accomplishments since independence has been its election as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council for the term of 2012-2013. The election of such a young country by a majority vote of 155 Member States clearly indicated international recognition of the country’s growing role in world affairs and its contribution to global peace and security.
Azerbaijan has also taken an active part in the work of the UN General Assembly and has positively contributed to the activities of UN agencies and programmes through its presence in various UN elected bodies and at a number of international summits and forums. Azerbaijan was elected as a member of the UNICEF Executive Board (1995-1997 and 1998-2000), the Commission on the Status of Women (2000-2002), the Committee on Sustainable Development (2002-2004), the UN Human Rights Council (2006-2009) and the UN Economic and Social Council (2003-2005 and 2017–2019). Most recently, Azerbaijan became a member of the ILO Governing Body for the period of 2017-2020. Azerbaijan has also been a sponsor or co-sponsor of a number of resolutions adopted by UN bodies, for instance, the Commission on the Status of Women’s annual resolution “Release of women and children taken hostage, including those subsequently imprisoned, in armed conflicts”. In 2002, Azerbaijan initiated a resolution on “missing persons” at the Commission on Human Rights (now known as the Human Rights Council).
On 25 September 2015, 193 UN Member States, including Azerbaijan, adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This identified 17 universal Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 196 targets to be achieved by 2030. United Nations resident and non-resident agencies, continue to work in close partnership with the Government and support Azerbaijan’s efforts to achieve these 17 Sustainable Development Goals.
In 2016, the United Nations and the Government of Azerbaijan concluded a new cooperation agreement with the signing of the United Nations-Azerbaijan Partnership Framework (UNAPF) for the period of 2016-2020. This is the fourth cooperation document to have been signed between the United Nations agencies and the Government which marks a transition from assistance-based to a partnership-based cooperation. The framework was guided by the country’s development aspirations as set out in ‘Azerbaijan – 2020: The Vision of the Future’ and was developed following inclusive and participatory consultations with a number of partners.
One of the primary aims of the United Nations-Azerbaijan Partnership Framework 2016-2020 is to achieve equality and broaden development opportunities for all vulnerable groups, internally displaced persons, refugees, women, children, youth and the elderly. To achieve this, the UN agencies will strive to strengthen national capacities to ensure that international human rights mechanisms and standards including gender equality norms are substantively mainstreamed into key policy planning and implementation processes at national and local levels.
Azerbaijan’s political commitment to achieving the 2030 Agenda has been demonstrated at the highest level when the President of Azerbaijan signed a decree creating the National Coordination Council for Sustainable Development (NCCSD) on 6 October 2016. The main aim of the Council is to coordinate the efforts of the government and other national actors in the nationalisation, mainstreaming and monitoring of the SDGs. Ever since its establishment, the Council has been closely collaborating with the United Nations agencies on the adoption and nationalisation of the SDGs availing itself of the vast of array of knowledge, experience and expertise available within the United Nations system.
Thus, during a relatively short timeframe since its independence, Azerbaijan has transformed itself from a transition economy into an upper middle-income country with a high human development index. This progress has made Azerbaijan an assertive and important international and regional player and an emerging humanitarian and development donor through the establishment of the Azerbaijan International Development Agency (AIDA) in 2011. Throughout the last 25 years, Azerbaijan has accumulated a wealth of experience, technical knowledge, expertise and best practices that can be shared with other countries. The United Nations is keen to support Azerbaijan’s ambitions in export its knowledge and expertise to other within the framework of South-South Cooperation.